By Kathryn Millán, MA, LPC/MHSP
So, you’ve decided to look for a therapist, counselor or psychologist. Congratulations! The fact that you’re considering this possibility means you have taken a first step toward self-care that will help both you and your loved ones.
Therapy is not what it was many years ago. Modern treatment offers a comfortable, safe place for you to learn more about yourself and make a plan for better relationships and a better future.
Don’t just think about finding a therapist — know your options! Did you know that one in five adults in the US has a diagnosable mental health condition, yet up to 56 percent of those people don’t receive treatment?1 And not everyone who seeks therapy has a mental health diagnosis. Many people seek therapy when they want to achieve new goals or adjust to life changes.
Every year, hundreds of thousands of Americans do benefit from the support of mental health professionals, whether they hope to treat an emotional condition, cope with life experiences or simply reach their greater goals. Therapy is an investment in yourself and your future, and it should be an enjoyable process that helps you move forward with a clear mind toward a brighter tomorrow.
How to Locate a Therapist
It’s hard to know where to begin looking for a quality therapist. Once you know what type of clinician you need, it’s time to find the right person for the job. Remember, this is a choice you get to make. If your counselor is not the right fit for you, then you have every right to seek a new clinician.
- Ask a Friend. You may want to begin by asking a friend or family member if they have any recommendations. Keep in mind that a good therapist for your friend may not be the perfect fit for your own needs. However, it’s good to get the inside scoop on what works and what doesn’t work for the people closest to you. In some cases, your friend’s therapist may also be able to help you find a therapist through referrals.
- Narrow down your search. Would you like a male or female counselor? What about a counselor who doesn’t identify with gender? Do you prefer someone with a similar religious background to yourself, someone in a specific age range, or an LGBTQ-friendly therapist? Would you like to see someone who specializes in a particular treatment? Make a “wish list” of traits you desire, and search online for therapists who match that profile.
- Do your research. Have you checked your insurance provider’s website to see who is in your provider network? Have you done a web search on the therapists who interest you most? You can learn a great deal about a potential therapist by looking online. Sometimes, a picture is worth a thousand words, and knowing what to expect through your potential counselor’s profile picture may help you feel more at ease.2
- Call and email. Reach out to any potential clinicians. See who takes the time to answer your questions. Many therapists have quite busy schedules, so allow some time for a call back. The wait may be worth it, as you can learn a lot about a particular therapist just by asking the right questions.
- Don’t feel pressured. Don’t jump into therapy with a person you know is not a good fit. If you feel unsure about a potential counselor, keep looking. Remember that you are hiring your counselor to help you, and you have every right to be discerning.
Questions to Ask a Potential Therapist
If you are confident in your choice of therapist, you will feel better about the entire treatment process. When you first speak with a potential clinician or treatment group, have a handy list of questions prepared. Here are some suggested questions you may want to ask your next therapist:
- Is your therapist fully licensed in the state where you live? How long has that person been in the field? If he or she is not licensed, who is their supervisor? Clinicians often work under the guidance of a licensed supervisor while they work to fulfill their state licensure requirements, which can be a benefit or a disadvantage, depending on what you need.
- What is your clinician’s specialty? For instance, if you have an addiction concern, you may want to seek out an addiction and recovery specialist. If you have a child who needs therapy, you will want someone who has experience working with children. People who specialize in a few areas or one area are more likely to have a thorough grasp of particular related needs.
- What is your clinician’s approach to treatment? Ask your potential therapist how he or she approaches the therapy process. See how you feel about that approach. Only you know what will work with your personality and what will not.
- Ask your potential therapist if he or she has ever been in therapy. You want to see if your therapist has done the internal, personal work it takes to do this job. If your therapist has never been to counseling before, you want to immediately find a new therapist. Mental health work requires support, self-examination and a healthy mental outlook. All therapists should go to therapy.
- Ask about the practical issues. Does this clinician accept insurance? What are payment arrangements? Is he or she accepting new clients? These practical issues are important to ask, so no financial surprises pop up later on.3
You do have choices when it comes to your mental health. As an informed consumer, you’ll be able to get a feel for what works best for you. Remember, there are no wrong questions. The important thing is to seek support when you need it and take advantage of the helpful resources that are all around you.
1 Nguyen, Theresa, et. al. “The State of Mental Health in America.” Mental Health America, 2017.
2 Cleantis, Tracy. ““How to Find the Best Therapist for You.” Psychology Today, February 16, 2011.
3 “Choosing a Therapist.” Anxiety and Depression Association of America, Accessed February 22, 2018.